This is what you need to know about reusing face masks - and how hygienic they really are

This is what you need to know about face mask guidance in the UK (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

The UK Government could change the guidance around wearing masks in public to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Experts have previously passed on research to the government showing that face coverings can help stop ‘asymptomatic people’ from passing on the disease.

If you’re already wearing a face mask, or looking to make your own so you can follow the guidelines once they’re issued, here’s what you need to know about reusing masks.

Can I wash and reuse a face mask?

Whether you can wash and reuse a face mask depends on what kind of face mask you’re using.

If you’re using thin, surgical masks then no, these cannot be washed and reused as they are designed to be disposable, single-use masks.

The World Health Organisation states: “Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not reuse single-use masks.”

If you’re using a cloth face covering, for example something that you’ve made yourself at home, then yes, you should be washing your face mask between uses.

The advice is to put your cloth mask in the wash after every use. So, every time you return home from the supermarket for example, you should put the mask in the wash and let it dry before using it again.

How do I effectively clean my face mask?

The Centre for Disease Control states that “a washing machine should suffice properly washing a face covering”.

Because of the frequency of washing required, you should make sure you have multiple masks that you can rotate with whilst the other ones are being washed and dried.

You can make your own masks at home using household items like t-shirts and pillowcases.

How do I make my own face mask?

You can easily make a cloth face mask at home, whether you know how to sew or not.

You can read more about sewn cloth face covering instructions from the CDC here. You’ll need two 10” by 6” rectangles of cotton fabric, two 6” pieces of elastic, needle, thread, scissors and a sewing machine.

For those of us who do not have access to a sewing machine, or don’t know how to sew, there are a variety of “no sew” methods you can follow.

This is a quick cut t-shirt face mask tutorial from the CDC that you can follow at home:

  • You’ll need a t-shirt and a pair of scissors
  • First, cut about seven to eight inches of material from the bottom of the t-shirt. From this band of material, cut out six to seven inches from the centre of the band.
  • You should see the face mask begin to take shape - cut the two tie strings at the back of the mask. You can now use this DIY t-shirt mask to tie to your face when you go out and about

How do I effectively wear a mask?

These are the steps you should take when wearing a face mask, according to WHO.

Before putting on your mask, make sure your hands are clean - wash them thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

When putting your mask on, make sure your mouth and nose are covered, with no gaps between your face and the mask.

Avoid touching the mask whilst it’s on your face - if you do accidentally touch the mask, make sure and wash your hands with soap and water as soon as possible.

When it comes time to remove the mask, always remove it from behind, making sure to avoid touching the front of it. Immediately discard the mask if it is a single use mask, or place it in the washing machine if it’s a cloth mask.

Should I be wearing a mask?

The UK public will be asked to start wearing face masks in public following advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) that found face coverings can help stop those with coronavirus but with no symptoms from spreading the disease.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We will follow the advice and listen to what SAGE says on masks and implement that.”

He explained however that it wouldn’t be guaranteed that the government would supply people with face masks, so home solutions might be the answer in this situation.

So while face masks won’t prevent you from catching the disease, it will help prevent the spread of the disease from those with the virus.

On the other hand, the CDC states that everyone should be wearing a face cover when going out in public.

The CDC emphasises that this is because you can spread Covid-19 to others even if you feel like you’re healthy.

“The cloth face cover is meant to protect other people in case you are infected,” the CDC explains.

The CDC also stresses that even if you’re wearing a face covering, you should continue to practice social distancing with other people in public.